Legal Updates

Intellectual Property – Copyright – Ownership – Out of Copyright Works – Duration of Copyright – British Library – Google Books – Digitising Books


It was recently made known that a partnership between Google and the British Library to publish out-of-copyright books online is to be formed.

Ownership of Copyright

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (“CDPA”), the owner of copyright in a literary work is the “author”. Section 11 CDPA describes the “author” as the creator of the work. In general, therefore, the author of a book would be the copyright owner.

What is the significance of Copyright?

The copyright holder has the exclusive right to do any of the following acts in relation to the work:-

  • Copy;
  • Rent, lend or issue copies of the work to the public;
  • Perform, broadcast or show the work in public;
  • Adapt the work.

Anyone who wishes to use a work should obtain consent from the copyright holder.

Duration of Copyright

The CDPA outlines that copyright lasts for the duration of the life of the author, plus 70 years. After this time, the work is considered out-of-copyright.

What are the consequences of a work being out-of-copyright?

Once a work is out-of-copyright, anyone may use the work (this includes use of the work in ways that were previously exclusive to the copyright holder).

The publication of books online would normally be considered an act that is exclusive to the copyright holder. As the British Library is intending on using books which are out-of-copyright however, they will be able to proceed with this project without infringing any copyright. The books will be digitised and made available free of charge to users on the library’s website and Google Books.

Google Books has been surrounded by controversy in the past. In 2009, the Paris Civil Court awarded €300,000 to French publisher La Martinière and Éditions du Seuil in damages and interest, ordering Google to pay €10,000 a day until it removed the publisher's books from its database. Google said it will appeal this ruling.

Further, in The Authors Guild et al, v. Google Inc, federal judge Denny Chin rejected a 2009 settlement which Google had reached with a coalition of publishers and authors concerning Google's scanning and displaying of full-text works without rights-holders’ permission. The rejection was based on the fact that granting the settlement would give Google significant rights to exploit entire books without the copyright owner’s acknowledgement.

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© RT COOPERS, 2011. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.



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